Vancouver Couples Counselling Helps Embattled Spouses Work Things Out

More than 70,000 divorce cases are filed in Canada every year, a third of them involving first-time couples. Loss of intimacy is cited as a leading cause. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of women initiate divorce.

There’s a lot of talk over the Internet about how to save a relationship that’s on the rocks. However, a study states that struggling couples need only two things: kindness and generosity. Continue reading

Vancouver Counselling Experts Explain the Worst ‘Scars’ are Invisible

In her book Mistral’s Kiss, Laurell K. Hamilton writes: “There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”

For the thousands of Canadian soldiers who have returned from Afghanistan, this couldn’t be any truer. Even as most of them returned safe, years of fierce fighting, being away from home, and danger at every turn would no doubt scar them for life. Continue reading

Are you as smart as an 8 Year old?

Unexpected Surprises 

I love brain science.  It fascinates me and I appreciate how much it helps us to understand why we do the things we do – both the things that are troublesome  and the things that excite our imaginations. We now know that we can change and grow our brains and therefore change what we do and how we feel.

One evening, my daughter, Kristi, was sharing about the benefits of meditation on the brain.  She is currently enrolled in a stress reduction course that is teaching her mindfulness practices. My 8 year old grandson, Josh, who was sitting nearby, piped up and asked us, “Are you talking about the amygdala?”  We were dumbfounded by his comment!



Our Brains Explain Our Behaviour

brain-basic_and_limbicWhile we were reeling from the awareness that he knew and could pronounce such a scientific term, he went on to explain what he’s learning in his grade 3 class. “My teacher told us that when we are in our amygdala, we do not make good decisions and it’s when I am goofing around with my friends.  When I focus attention to my school work and get it done on time, then I’m in my pre-frontal cortex. We also make better decisions in our prefrontal cortex. Our hippocampus is the part we use to remember our math and other things we are learning.” He went on to explain how she uses “a chime” both first thing in the morning and after lunch to “get us into our prefrontal cortex.”  The kids are asked to sit cross legged and close their eyes and listen to the sound of the chime. This helps them to calm the brain so that they can approach their tasks not feeling overwhelmed by the stimulation in the room. Kristi was both impressed and humbled, realizing that her son appeared to have a better handle on how his brain worked than she did.

Soothing Distress 

If you have children then you know how emotionally volatile life can be for them.  Children’s emotional states change in an instant as they get  easily triggered and emotionally overwhelmed by life’s events. When children are left to fend for themselves during these times they cannot calm down on their own.  In my family, we could have expected to hear “stop crying” or told “don’t you dare speak to me that way”. These responses are not helpful in soothing distress and they also trigger fear. Fear is stored in the amygdala. When children don’t have the emotional support they need to off load their distress along with healthy limits to help them feel safe, they develop coping mechanisms which lead to either acting out or shutting down.

Brain science teaches us what highjacks our peace & serenity and how to self-regulate in times of trouble. Teaching children basic mindfulness meditation techniques excites me!  Meditation changes the brain in many positive ways.  It builds up the areas that are associated with positive feelings – like happiness and hope for a brighter future.  At the same time, it shrinks the parts of our brain that is associated with worry and regret.  It teaches us to concentrate better, to slow down our impulses and to be calmer and more confident in life.

In fact, click the link below to watch this short video to see why meditation will soon be an important daily activity.

It seems that it is becoming more common for school curriculums to include time for teaching mindfulness to children.  If this seems important to you, then take time to find out if your child’s school is doing it and if not, are they open to exploring the possibility.


Many adults understand how early emotional trauma or neglect can have long term effects. Adults bring these early copying styles (fighting, fleeing or resentfully complying) into their marriages or significant relationships – thereby unknowingly reenacting the emotional trauma with their partners.  Learning techniques for calming yourself is one tool in becoming more emotionally connected to yourself and others in order to stop this painful replaying of the past. As a regular meditator I can’t say enough about the benefits I receive which allows me to run a busy practice, travel a lot and spend time with family and friends.

If you thought the information in this video made sense, and you are an adult who has difficulty self-regulating your emotions, ask yourself if you can begin some type of mindfulness practice.  Start to pay attention to what triggers you to lose your temper, feel anxious or even disconnected from others.  Go to a local bookstore or shop online for a cd or reading material that resonates with you and helps you learn to calm your amygdala.  Let us know what you find that is helpful so we can share it with others.

Wishing you all the best on your journey to ever more emotional health.

Sue SignatureUnknown


What Africa Taught Me About Addiction & Trauma

This summer my husband Bob and I had the privilege of visiting Uganda & Kenya. While we certainly took the opportunity to go on a couple of safaris and honestly felt like we were in the middle of a National Geographic movie, our primary purpose was to visit the school we helped donate money to build.

What Africa Taught me about Addiction and Trauma copyThere were about 20 of us in our group who were traveling with World Teacher Aid (WTA), a Canadian charity devoted to helping bring education to children in Africa. They have a unique program in that the donors don’t just write a cheque, they go to the community, meet the people, and help finish the building. The school we helped fund was built in a Kenyan ‘IDP’ (Internally Displaced Persons) village, called ‘Lemolo A’. In most cases, these families have been driven out of their homes due to ‘tribal wars’ that are spurred by election violence. We listened to one young man tell us how, when he was 17 years old, his family barely escaped from his village that was set ablaze in the night – intended to kill everyone. While these people are promised new homes by the Kenyan government, this does not always happen. Lemolo ‘A’ appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely no facilities, like running water. The “roads” were so rugged that it would be virtually impossible to get their without an all-terrain vehicle. Families here live in poverty – not knowing if they will have enough food to feed their children, let alone jobs to get back on their feet. A real ‘hopelessness’ can and does set in for many.

I asked one of the community liaison workers how much of an alcohol problem existed (not just in this community, but in general). He said it was bad. “Look around here – what do you think the men here have to do?” “Nothing”, I replied. “That’s right – they have nothing to look forward to and they feel useless, so they drink to escape from the pain”. I asked how they afforded it because obviously there is very little money exchanging hands. He told me that, for the equivalent of 10 cents, you can by this clear brew made from fermented sugar cane, which for all intents and purposes, we would call ‘moonshine’. He confirmed this when he told me that if you drink a glass you are basically unable to walk, let alone think or feel. It’s crucial to recognize that, while addiction is a serious medical condition needing treatment, social factors matter. Giving individuals a way back to their dignity has to be a fundamental part of motivating them to change.

I was also curious about how people get over their trauma – whether there were counsellors working with them or therapy offered in any form. I enquired to the local World Teacher Aid representative, Irene, who as the Founder of a local NGO, has her finger on the pulse of many communities in need. She told me about Shalom, the community where the first WTA school was built 3 years ago. They now have both a primary and high school in the community. It was our first stop and where we had our first taste of what I see as the unique African spirit. The entire 400 school kids were waiting in a group, dressed in their uniforms and singing welcoming songs to us as we arrived. We shook hands with all the teachers and discussed their work. This community has been completely placed on it’s feet as a result of the school, which became the central hub for all following improvements – roads built so the teachers can come and go – food planted and provided for the families, buildings built and so on. In fact, if you build a school, you are actually changing the lives and improving the future for the entire community. The biggest reason is that it gives them hope – hope for a brighter future for their children and for themselves. What Irene told me is that this community, although badly traumatized by their circumstances, are what she considered 80% healed. How has that happened? Have they had the best experts in the trauma field provide professional help? Actually, no.


What I learned from her is that it is “the community” itself that heals. She said that they all pull together and help each other get over their losses and through each difficult day. I told her that often in the West, when parents have been traumatized, they take it out on their kids and pass it on to the next generation. She quite frankly responded, “No, that does not happen here.” It really got me thinking about the fact that children are never alone, but surrounded by hoards of kids and many adults, and how women are surrounded by other women and men have each other – that this somehow results in a very different outcome.


Now, you may think this sounds too simple. I mean after all, what would that do for the profession of trauma counselling? It would mean they don’t really need us. Well, interestingly enough, Bessel van der Kolk, an expert in trauma, has discussed the findings on New York citizens and first responders who did not suffer from PTSD following the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers. The reason this population remained resilient was because they had family and community support at the time of their trauma and for some time following. So, it would appear there is some legitimacy to the claim that “community” is a key factor in helping overcome trauma. In fact, it may be the beginning of a new awareness in our field about how we can better help people heal from trauma.


What I experienced first hand from the community was, at times, massively emotional – in a very positive sense. We were embraced with open arms and open hearts. I shed many tears, moved deeply by their gratitude, their outright joyfulness and compassionate intelligence. I loved the Africans I met. I came back home wondering how we can learn and apply what seems to be a real solution to the kinds of suffering that many individuals, couples and families experience in North America. It has to do with eliminating isolation, loneliness and the hopelessness that can set in when a person feels overwhelmed by life.


What I learned is that addiction and trauma are universal and yet people can thrive if given the right conditions and especially the support to get back on their feet. I’m wondering if you think it is possible to heal better as part of a caring and responsive community? Moreover, how will it be possible for us to create this more for those of us who are trying to overcome addiction or have unresolved trauma?


Let me know what your experiences have been and what thoughts you might have on this topic. I look forward to hearing from you.
What Africa Taught me about Addiction and Trauma copy

Pete, Bob and I talking to the Governor at the Opening Ceremony of the Lemolo A School. Irene is in the beautiful dress


Emotional Sobriety Matters

Welcome to the first edition of Emotional Sobriety Matters. I am so excited to be sharing with you on this topic. Whenever I have mentioned the idea of “emotional sobriety” to others, it receives a positive response, “Wow, I like that idea”. I think ’emotional sobriety’ resonates and describes something all of us desire.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate the need for emotional sobriety in my life. I have had to face old patterns that no longer served my ideal of who I want to be. Most of the time, these changes have come as a direct result  of some sort of impasse in an important interpersonal relationship. It is in my relationship with others that I am faced with my own strengths and my limitations and shortcomings. From these rich relationally-based experiences, I continue to grow and learn more about living a full, emotionally sober life. I hope that this newsletter can become a resource for you to move more fully in this direction.

What is Emotional Sobriety?

Emotional sobriety is more than just abstinence from an addictive substance or behavior. Anyone who have overcome an addictive state knows that this does not immediately – or even over the long run – create a sense of inner harmony and direction for our lives. Often, our emotions are just as ‘in control’ of our lives in a seemingly ‘out of control’ way. Often, our important relationships are fraught with discord, instability, or even abuse. We are sometimes still anxious and afraid to face life on life’s terms. In other words, it is difficult to find that ‘peace within’ that all of us are really ‘craving’.

I understand emotional sobriety to be the thread that pulls together the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of our recovery and makes whole our fractured selves. It is about finding balance and learning to regulate our emotional lives in a way that brings understanding, without the drama that leads to ongoing distress. It’s about focusing on ourselves without calling it “selfish”, but rather knowing that if we create a deep sense of well-being within, that we are able to be in the world in a healthy way. It is about knowing that there is no separation with our everyday lives and our higher spiritual selves.

Qualities that Increase Emotional Sobriety

Over the next few months, I will explore with you some qualities that that indicate emotional sobriety and what you can start to do in order to increase these qualities in yourself. So let’s start with a few today:

  1. Self definition: this is the understanding that who you are is uniquely you and that you are comfortable expressing your ideas, beliefs, feelings and desires with others
  2. Confidence: this means that you believe in yourself and your ability to succeed at achieving your goals. It also means that you are comfortable being who you are, in spite of others’ opinions or differences
  3. Emotional Regulation: this means being able to manage your emotions so that you feel that you are in control, rather than your emotions controlling you
  4. Social connectedness: this is the ability to have connections with others and feel that they understand who you are and you understand who they are
  5. Interpersonal Intimacy: this builds on #4 as it relates to the ability to maintain deeper connections without going into a flight/fight response, resulting in a deeper sense of satisfaction and meaning in life.Challenging Yourself to Change
    Why don’t you spend some time assessing yourself – without judgment – on these five qualities. Pick one quality that you want to work on, and begin to know yourself better in relation to this issue. Do Not Beat Yourself Up if you are not where you want to be. Practice acceptance and try to stay open to the potential for change. I know that is not easy, especially if you came from a family where every mistake was duly noted.
    If you feel ready, begin to risk being more of who you want to be – i.e., be more self revealing – tell someone you care about something they don’t know about you that expresses a passion or desire or dream in life; or try to contain your anger rather than explode – walk away or call a friend or do some deep breathing to buy time. Practice acknowledging and feeling the energy of anger rather than act it out. Give yourself lots of strokes for any small improvements, as this will reinforce change.
    Best wishes on your journey to emotional sobriety.

Until next time,

Sue Diamond Potts

This newsletter is meant to provide you with information and tips for improving yourself. It is not meant as a substitute for therapy or counselling. Please feel free to forward a copy of Emotional Sobriety Matters (in its’ entirety) to others who may be interested in personal development.